Africa is rising, The Economist, the magazine which gave us the news of Africa being the hopeless continent, told us in 2011, that after a decade, Africa has now become the hopeful continent. From hopelessness to hope, that could be the title of a good memoir.
Since that cover however, a kind of optimism has been in the air where Africa is concerned, and words never before connected with the continent are bandied around. Returnees. The emerging middle class. Afropolitanism. And of course, Africa Rising. Roads are being built, skyscrapers too in which shopping arcades will be hosted. KFC is moving to Côte d’Ivoire, and FNAC is planning to come into the West African nation healing from a decade of political tension.
Leaving aside the fact that this rise of Africa is always talked about in terms of consumerism, one question remains: for whom is Africa rising?
In the Africa Rising discourse, it appears that anything which might go towards presenting a balanced view is erased. The emerging middle-class with their shiny cars and their picture-perfect life, with the picture-perfect smiles all round. But is anyone presenting the middle-class woman or man who has to support countless other family members for whom the life of their kin is just so far removed from theirs? Or the returnees, as the returnee diaspora are called, with their European or American degrees. Yet, in many African countries, the young people, who make up the majority of the population, are struggling to find a job, due in some part to the educational system no longer adapted to the demands of today’s professional environment.
But evidently, Africa is the hopeful continent, and has always been, even in 2001, when The Economist was telling us otherwise.
Despite it being an old continent well deserving of its tag of cradle of humanity, Africa has a young population, land and natural resources aplenty that are both a blessing as well as a curse. China has become the business partner of Africa par excellence, although not much partnership is taking place on the ground. Deals are signed, but the Chinese turn up with their own contractors, meaning that for the majority of African youth, jobs are not being created. They do get to enjoy shiny new buildings however!
And that is where the problem lies. In the unbridled optimism of the Africa Rising discourse where any dissenting voice, however justified, might be tagged of being in the Afro-pessimism camp, Africans themselves need to own this Africa Rising and define it on their own terms.
Is Africa Rising to unbridled consumerism, or is she rising to take her destiny into her own hands, in the same way the youth of Burkina Faso took their destinies into their own hands on 31st, October 2014 to demand the departure of Blaise Compaoré and again on 17th, September to say no to Diendéré’s coup?